Thirty years ago, marriage laws enforced marriage vows. Marriage entailed a contractual obligation to stay together and share intimate relations (to have and to hold), to remain faithful, and to love and support each other always. A divorce suit was a suit for breach of contract. Breach had to be shown, and breaches would be penalized in the adjudication of property and support.
When "no fault" divorce laws swept the nation in the 70's, enforcement of marriage vows was eliminated. The marriage contract became simply a set of rules for dividing up property and determining who had to pay what support to who, as soon as either party wanted out, without regard to who had broken which vows.
The old system of requiring blame for divorce certainly had drawbacks. Having financial advantage depend on portraying one's spouse in the worst possible light created a breeding ground of acrimony and false charges. What can be harder to determine than blame in an intimate relationship, where the contesting parties are often the only witnesses? But at least this system tried to keep abuse in check by giving judges the power to punish blame.
The new system eliminates the difficulty of assigning blame by eliminating punishment for blame. It is like eliminating the difficulty of deciding who to believe in rape cases by making rape legal. The most rapacious breach of marriage vows is not only protected but is often very handsomely rewarded. There is each day an offer on the table for the spoils one can walk away with, and a firm guarantee by the state that there will be no scrutiny of anyone's motives or behavior.
Since the couple will no longer be sharing expenses, their combined prosperity will typically decline, but very often the rules will offer a lucrative package to one at the expense of the other. In particular, thanks to three decades of chivalrous male concession to strident feminist demands, the rules for settlement are grotesquely biased against breadwinners. (Because of the "equal protection" clause in the Fourteenth Amendment, feminists could not bias the law against men specifically, but had to settle for going after the traditional male role.)
Thus the state is constantly bribing one of the parties to divorce. This induces some people, perhaps many, who would normally fix on the rewards that come from treating others fairly and honestly, to fix instead on what can be gained through bad faith and the destruction of other lives. Consider two examples.
For seven years I have done carpentry work for a couple that developed a local auto body business. The husband, Bernal, is perhaps the hardest working man I have ever met, yet is unfailingly patient, friendly and engaging. His life is for giving, and he has wanted nothing more than to give it for his wife and his daughter. His wife, Mirriam, while not as hard a worker by nature, helped him develop the business and was also caught in the effort it required. As the shop grew on the strength of Bernal's unique ability and drive, Mirriam, in addition to keeping the home, had to keep up with the business side of the shop, hiring and firing the office people, managing payroll, dealing with government red tape, managing the building.
I became good friends of the family and witnessed the strains. Just the toll of not being done with the day's work until it was almost time to go to sleep would make anyone restive, and then there were the common hints of claustrophobia that afflict many marriages, and indeed most lives. Mirriam was a little domineering towards her husband, a little sarcastic, and Bernal's obsession with his work has made him a little one dimensional. Full of goodwill, the only think he really knows about is cars. Their relationship was one of shared difficulties and strained tolerance, with much to be thankful for, lightened by the great love they share for their little boy.
I've always had a lot of respect for them both, but now Mirriam has succumbed to the bribe offered by the state to divorce Bernal. She offered me a litany of little reasons for wanting a divorce. She complained that Bernal was domineering around the house but she could see I wasn't buying it. We both knew that she was the domineering one and Bernal the fatalist, who is willing to give and give to get along. Finally she gave me an explanation that rang true. Bernal was a workaholic, and as his business partner, she was having to be a workaholic too. She didn't want to work that hard.
With the deal that the no fault rules offer, she will never have to work again. The business is community property. So is the house. With her share of the value of the business she can buy out the house and still be rich, even before accounting the child support and alimony that Bernal will have to pay. Bernal, on the other hand, will have to continue to work twelve hour days to buy out the business, to pay alimony and child support, and to get a new place to live. At the same time, he loses his wife's help and support, her home-making, and his son for half of the boy's childhood.
Most appalling, the calculated value of the business capitalizes the value of Bernal's future productivity. That is, according to the settlement rules, she literally owns half of him for the rest of his life. He is the community property, then out of the half of himself that he gets to keep, he has to pay to afford her the life (minus the work) that she has become accustomed to. She would have to be a saint to resist the winning lottery ticket that the state is offering her for getting divorced, and while she is an engaging, observant and candid friend, she is no saint.
Indeed, it turns out that Mirriam orchestrated circumstances to maximize her gains and to destroy Bernal. When I first met them they lived in a very modest little house on a good sized lot in a nice neighborhood. Mirriam used to laughingly sneer at the house, saying how they were going to bulldoze it first chance they got. Bernal would roll his eyes, shrug and nod.
"After we signed the contract for the house, she gloated," Bernal told me. "She said she had me by the balls and she was going to hang me by them, and that is exactly what she is doing." The big new house established a far higher standard of living, which will serve as the basis for the alimony Bernal has to pay. She was on the ten year plan. "She never loved me," Bernal laments, "It was all a lie, always. She was just using me, and now she rejoices in the thought of destroying me!"
And it is true. The maneuver with the house proves it. "He is the one who wanted this stupid house," she complained when she told me of the divorce. But I was there all those years. I heard who was pushing for the new house.
This isn't about Mirriam being a bad person. She is what I would call a "sharp." She has intelligence and a capacity for work and can be glad to use them to support her place in the world if that is what is required. On the other hand, like most people, she would rather not have to work for it. She'd rather win the lottery. If the only price is that she has to indulge all her worst instincts, she laughs all the way to the bank. She could go either way -- be good or bad -- and our divorce laws (the ugly) determine her direction. All she has to do is betray her oath and destroy the man she vowed to love and the state will grant her a life of luxury.
A lot of people are like Mirriam. She thinks her cunning is superior intelligence when in fact it is a failure to grasp all that there is to value. If she had just been fair instead of greedy then Bernal, this fount of value in her life, could prosper too. By failing to love all that there is to love, she empties her life and ends up dedicating herself to relatively worthless ends.
It is a most common mistake. People fall into vindictiveness and invidious comparison instead of valuing other lives. They are not inherently evil, only inherently susceptible to evil, while still being susceptible to good. This is why it is imperative that the laws incorporate those distinctions between right and wrong that can be made. For those people who lack their own moral compass, society must provide boundaries, by walling off those behaviors that constitute crime.
The criterion of crime is force and fraud, and fraud, in the form of violation of marriage vows -- treating Bernal with hatred rather than the love she promised, setting him up for years to be her patsy -- is Mirriam's crime. Blanket "no fault" laws are an abnegation of government's most fundamental proper role: to oppose clear injustices of force and fraud.
In some cases blame is too obscure to usefully be prosecuted, but that is no reason to ignore blame when it is grotesque and obvious. When a spouse pursues a course that clearly violates the vow of love, and instead tries to destroy and take heartless advantage, as with Mirriam's waiting until she had entered into vast new financial obligations with Bernal to precipitate divorce, she should not be allowed to benefit from it.
It may seem paradoxical, but this most spiritual and least concrete of the wedding vows -- the vow to love -- may hold the key to reforming no-fault marriage laws. Mirriam is as slick as they come, yet she is completely revealed by this criterion. The other imperative is to undo the anti-male biases in the settlement rules. It is this bias that makes the state's divorce bribe so lucrative in so many instances.
The irony is how this "feminist" achievement, attacking breadwinners, betrays feminism's core constituency: the career woman. My second example should scare the pants off of every Stanford girl.
One of my best friends was a stellar undegraduate biology student at Stanford, went to medical school, and married the same kind of person who male doctors often marry: someone who turned out to be a user in search of a meal ticket. He never worked a day after they got married. He spent as much of her money as he could on one idiotic scheme after another. He sent his parents on world vacations at my friend's expense and he threatened to kill her if she filed for a divorce. He was outraged when she got pregnant because a child threatened him with future obligations that would cut into what he would be able to take from her when they did eventually get divorced. Only when a second pregnancy further threatened his lottery ticket did he turn around and insist on an immediate divorce himself. Now, thanks to California's anti-breadwinner rules, the fact that he contributed nothing to the partnership gives him total advantage.
He gets half the house that she has been paying for. He gets alimony. And in return for relieving him of all obligations to ever do anything to support his children, she has to pay him $50,000 dollars (so that the criminal cannot blackmail her with threats of a custody battle for the next eighteen years). Go throw up ladies. This is what feminism has set you up for. If you take on the "male" role, if you earn money, the feminists have arranged the laws to screw you to the wall. It will happen to a bunch of you, just as it is happening to epidemic numbers of men.
The combination of no-fault divorce laws and "feminist" settlement rules are an evil cocktail. They turn the law itself into into an vehicle for criminal assault.
Alexander Rawls is running for sheriff of Santa Clara County. Write in vote for him June 2nd.
Next article in the "Stories that Need to be Told" series: Shotgunning Clay Pigeons for Sport and Pleasure
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Date Last Modified: 8/27/99
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